BRUSSELS — Eyewitnesses described terrifying scenes that unfolded Tuesday in Brussels as travelers and commuters, European Union officials and baggage handlers were swept up in deadly terror attacks.
Two explosions — including at least one suicide bomb — struck Brussels Airport at about 8 a.m. before another blast hit a subway station in the heart of the Belgian capital. At least 30 people were killed in the attacks and 230 wounded, according to the Belgian government’s crisis center.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Alphonse Lyoura, a baggage handler at the airport, described to BFM the chilling scenes as the terrorists struck.
“I heard one shot. After the shot, I heard someone speaking in Arabic, and as soon as he finished speaking in Arabic, I heard the explosion,” he said, “a huge, strong explosion.”
He recounted the awful sight of casualties from the blast.
“There was a woman who couldn’t talk, there was a man who had lost his two legs, there was a police officer with a mangled leg,” he said. “It’s horrible; Belgium doesn’t deserve this.”
Smoke, panic, collapsing ceiling
Mary-Odile Lognard was checking in for a flight to Abu Dhabi when she heard the explosion take place about 20 meters away, she told BFM.
“Immediately there was a lot of smoke and a movement of panic, people started running toward the exit.”
About 20 seconds later, there was a second, closer blast.
“The ceiling over our head started to collapse, to fall. Some people were wounded, and it was complete panic. Everyone ran out,” she said.
Jef Versele, from the Belgian city of Ghent, was making his way to check in for a flight to Rome when he heard the blast from the airport’s departure hall several floors below him.
It left 50 to 60 wounded people strewn across the floor, blew out windows and collapsed ceiling panels.
“A lot of people were on the floor. They were injured,” he said, adding he was “very lucky” to have survived. “I think I have a guardian angel somewhere.”
About 10 minutes later, emergency services and security forces arrived and began tending to the casualties and evacuating people to the parking lot, Versele said, where he was able to reach his car and leave the scene.
He said it was hard to believe the scenes he had witnessed. “We cannot believe it, it was so insane. You think not in my backyard.”
Luggage trolleys used as stretchers for wounded
At the Sheraton Brussels Airport Hotel, directly opposite the airport terminal, Anthony Barrett heard a loud noise at about 8 a.m. that “sounded like somebody moving furniture in the hotel room above me.”
“When I opened the curtains and looked out, I could see people fleeing the terminal building,” said Barrett, who had been attending a conference at the hotel and was due to fly home to Britain on Tuesday. Footage from the scene showed panicked passengers running along the roads to get away from the carnage.
“It’s clearly a very serious incident,” he said.
From his vantage point in the hotel, Barrett said he saw dozens of wounded carried out on stretchers or luggage trolleys to ambulances as medics and security personnel swarmed the scene.
“I can see a man carrying somebody who looks very injured,” he said as he watched events unfold.
Maalbeek attack: ‘We heard some noises that shouldn’t be there’
About an hour later, another blast struck the subway station of Maelbeek in central Brussels, near the European quarter, where much of the European Union is based.
Sander Verniers was riding the subway, in between stations, when he heard and felt the blast.
“I think I was in the subway right behind the one that carried the bomb,” he said.
“We all kind of felt a strong wind coming through the carriage, through the subway, and then we heard some noises that shouldn’t be there.”
The train braked to a halt, passengers opened the emergency exit and security forces evacuated people calmly through dark and smoke-filled subway tunnels.
Evan Lamos was also on the subway at the time of the explosion. He described on Twitter how he felt a blast of air and his ears popped, immediately before the carriage stopped midstation.
He said he heard thudding in the distance before being evacuated from the carriage and walking with other passengers along the dark tracks to the closest station.
Serge Massart, a policy officer for the European Commission, was in a nearby commission building when he also heard and felt the blast.
“We all felt the building was shaking, a vibration,” he said. Crowds began to pour out of the subway station.
Gavin Sheridan tweeted that there were dramatic scenes around the Maalbeek station after the blast, with some people visibly upset.
“A young lady walked passed me in tears,” he tweeted.
“One clearly distressed and angry commuter shouted at the hacks (journalists) ‘You have no idea what’s down there. Bodies…’ before storming off.”
Danger ‘is getting close’
Richard Medic said he arrived at Maalbeek station shortly after the attack to find it cordoned off, with emergency services at the scene.
“I think after the Paris attacks we had been expecting that something like this would happen,” he said.
“I don’t think it was unexpected.”
He said he personally had not changed his routine, although he had noticed a greater vigilance and increased security given the heightened recent terror threat.
“I walk past the European Commission every day to take my daughter to day care,” he said. “We walk past soldiers with guns and heightened security and people checking badges a lot more than they used to — but I think most people go about their daily routine.”
Versele, the airline customer from Ghent, said he was a frequent flier from Brussels Airport and had never considered traveling from the facility to be any danger.
“But now, to be honest, it’s getting quite close,” he said.
He said it was important not to shy away from traveling or living life as normal “to prove that we are not afraid of” those behind the attacks.
But he said maybe authorities are “finally realizing that they have allowed a few people who should not be allowed here. It’s a pity these things have to happen before they get aware there’s a serious problem.”